Motivated behaviors fall into two valences: Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The ability to select appropriate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, such as avoiding a predator or approaching a food source, is critical for survival. Although most animals are capable of learning to assign either positive or negative associations to environmental cues, we are only beginning to understand the underlying neural circuits and the plasticity that mediates the formation, revision or extinction of an associative memory.
How is emotional or motivational significance assigned to environmental cues?
Where do the circuits processing associative information diverge to differentially encode positive and negative valence?
When there are perturbations in the neural circuits mediating reward processing, fear, motivation, memory or inhibitory control, we may observe a number of disease states such as substance abuse, attention-deficit disorder, anxiety and depression. These are among the most prevalent neuro-psychiatric disorders, and show a high rate of co-morbidity with each other, as patients diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders are approximately twice as likely to develop a substance abuse disorder.
Do perturbations in common neural circuits processing motivation, memory or affective valence underlie this high-rate of co-morbidity? Can emotional states such as increased anxiety alter a given experience and increase the propensity for substance abuse by facilitating long-term changes associated with reward-related learning? If so, what is the mechanism?
The Tye lab employs an interdisciplinary approach including optogenetics, electrophysiology, pharmacology and imaging techniques to find a mechanistic explanation for how emotional and motivational states can influence learning and behavior, in both health and disease. In addition to scientific excellence and integrity, top values of the Tye Laboratory include mentorship, collaboration, innovation and above all, a positive mental attitude.